Friday, April 30, 2010

Guest Blog: Remakes and Adaptations

Tripp Stryker week is almost over! The Bitter Script Reader will be back on Monday, tanned, rested and probably with a script that still needs work.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is coming out today and I couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s about time someone did a back to basics approach with the series, a total restart to clear out all the detritus. Thing is, I’m seeing a lot of whiners all over the internet, decrying the fact that this movie was even made.

Get a life, will you people?

This is a fucking business. More than that, movies are modern mythology. They’re campfire stories told again and again for the enjoyment of the masses. Did anyone really want to see Robert England haul his geriatric ass around one more time? I’ll give them this – that rumor about New Line doing the Nightmare prequel was pretty cool. Had they told the story of Freddie when he was just a child killer, that might have had merit.

But hey, they didn’t and now we have a fresh start and a new interpretation of one of film’s greatest monsters. This sort of relaunch happens all the time in comics and no one complains, so why is it such a big deal when a movie series starts over from ground zero? I checked this morning and my Nightmare on Elm Street box set is still sitting on my shelf. It didn’t crumble into dust at midnight, and whattya know, the DVD still works and everything. The old movie is still there so who am I to piss on the people eager to see the new one?

I’ve also heard a lot of bitching about the Battleship and the Monopoly movies. So fucking what? I’m excited for these! I know it would have to take a shit load of imagination to find a story in those premises and I bet it’ll be goddamn entertaining to watch. The doomsayers are acting like this is the first time something was translated from one medium to another.

The same thing happens when a recent popular novel is adapted. Have you heard the whining about Nicholas Sparks’ novels being filmed as movies before the book even comes out? So what? I think it’s great! Synergize. Strike while the iron is hot and all of that. If they’re smart, they’ll get to work on a new Twilight novel and release it the same day as its movie adaptation. Can you imagine the hype and the cash they could make from that?

Better still, do that with Harry Potter 8. The hype from that would totally break the internet in half.

Film adaptations have been around as long as film existed. Open your ears to this – The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, and I know it was acclaimed because I was forced to read it in 9th grade English. You know what else I remember from that snorefest? That there was a movie adaptation that I watched in lieu of reading the book. Guess when the movie came out? 1940.


Yeah, they didn’t even wait for the ink to dry on the first run before adapting it. John Steinbeck was the Stephanie Meyer of his day.

So do me a favor: If you hate the very idea of a new Nightmare relaunch, just don’t see the film. Don’t be one of those pussies who walks in with an attitude of “This is going to blow and I can’t wait to rant on the internet about exactly where they went wrong with this and failed the make the movie I wanted them to make.” If you want to hate the movie, I can guarantee you will. Don’t pretend like you’re going to give it any kind of fair shake by going to see it.

And if you are going, I’ll see you at Graumann's Chinese at 7:30. And possibly at 10:30 if the film kicks as much ass as I expect.

I had a blast this week, team. When you get to Development Hell, tell ‘em Tripp Stryker sent ya!


Tripp Stryker is tired of getting hate mail at
TrippleThreat69@hotmail.com but he welcomes any and all scandalous pic from smokin' hot chick readers. I'm casting a movie soon and need a ton of hotties. Send something that shows of your bod and I might make your dreams come true.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guest Blog: Paying for coverage

Back for more, eh? Don't worry, Tripp's not gone yet. Bitter's out either sunning with his lady or trying to figure out how to watch Tuesday's Glee online from his hotel room. He'll be back Monday.

When The Bitter Script Reader told me that he got at least one offer a week from someone willing to pay to have him read their script, I couldn’t believe it. When I explored the internet a little bit and got a sense of just how many people want you to pay them for their opinions, I really couldn’t believe it. Talk about flushing your money down the toilet. How is any of this supposed to help you?

And then there are websites where you can upload your script for anyone to read and give you notes! At least they don’t charge, but why do you care what Jonas Bumblefuck in Montana thinks about your script?

Ask any writer and they’ll tell you that the worst part about being a screenwriter is all the notes from every idiot with an opinion. No script was ever made better from the development process. How many screenwriters have you heard rail against the idiot director, agent, producer or studio executive who made them do something that ruined their script?

I’ve got personal experience in having scripts get ruined by the idiots at the studio. In fact, I’m pretty sure that studio tool Camden Carr personally destroyed one of my projects with his input, then had his boss kill the movie when I wouldn’t play ball. Then somehow a year later, they release a film - by another writer – that bears a shocking resemblance to my script, plus the ideas they wanted me to do. It’s pretty clear they just brought in a writer on assignment and more or less dictated the story to them.

Real screenwriters have their own voice. Real screenwriters know every inch of their story inside and out – and real screenwriters don’t need anyone else telling them how to write.

Look, did Da Vinci ask all his friends for their input on the Mona Lisa, or did he just fucking paint?

So why would you not only ask people to give you their opinions on your script, but then pay them for all their misguided ideas? Who bothers posting their script on a website so any idiot can comment on it, so long as they reach the minimum standard of having a modem and a computer?

No one should tell you what to write. Screenwriters have bought into this myth for years, and that’s why screenwriting is a compromised art. Some idiot whose only qualification is that they’ve seen a lot of movies is gonna tell YOU how to write? Fuck! I have season tickets for the Lakers but I don’t act like I could get on the court. (I can - and have - gotten on some of the Laker Girls, though. I know, like that's hard.)

Stand up for yourselves. Never take any notes. You obviously wrote it that way for a reason.

Don’t let anyone make you question your art. Now go out there and write!


Tripp Stryker thinks that losers always whine about their writing. Winners go out and fuck the D-girl! Show him some love at TrippleThreat69@hotmail.com

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Guest Blog: Landing that agent

Tripp Stryker continues his week of setting you guys straight. The Bitter Script Reader returns on Monday.

You know how Steven Spielberg got started? He snuck onto the Universal lot, found an empty office and acted like he belonged there. He carried himself like a winner and bluffed the guards and anyone who would have been in a position to stop him. He didn’t say “Gosh, I’m not allowed to walk onto this lot unauthorized! I’d better politely go away!” He said, “Fuck this, I’m walking on and I DARE you to throw me off!”

BAM! A few years later, he’s directing Jaws. Nuff said.

M. Night Shyamalan was once just a lowly guy in the industry who’s directing credits consisted of one little-seen movie, and a film for Harvey Weinstein that had such a contentious production that it didn’t get released for three years and then made less than $290,000. Worse, he pissed off Harvey. That was a career-killer back then.

Guess what happened? He wrote a script that was awesome and flat out said, “Not only will you pay me $2 million for this, but you’re gonna let me direct this and you’re gonna let me do it my way. Those are my terms.” If Night had polled the people on Done Deal Pro about his negotiating strategy, there would have been no shortage of people calling him a clueless dipshit who had no idea how the business worked.

That script: The Sixth Sense. $600 million globally, bitches! That’s taking control of your own destiny.

When I was looking to build my career, I didn’t sent lame queries in envelopes. I didn’t email agents with email addressess I pilfered from Done Deal Pro, either. I went straight to the source and got a meeting with a very solid agency. I won’t say which one, just that it can be abbreviated to three letters, and none of those letters are A or C.

This guy happened to be one of my dad’s oldest friends. Now I wanted to get there without Dad’s help, so I didn’t have him put in a word for me or anything. I didn’t call ahead – I just showed up at the office and said, “My name is Tripp Stryker and I’m hear to see my agent.”

Reception called up and the agent’s assistant knew nothing about this meeting. I said to put me on the phone and very convincingly told the assistant that he was going to put me through to my agent or else likely find himself out of a job tomorrow when his boss read in the trades that I went to a rival agency. That got the agent on the line and once he realized it was me, I was ushered up. All it took was, “I’ve got the next big thing. It’ll do for romantic comedies what The Matrix did for sci-fi.”

I walked out of that office about an hour and a half later with representation. The script was optioned within a week. It never got made, but I got assignment work off of it. Enough to keep me well-paid for years to come.

It can happen – and I didn’t have to go through a reader to get my agent.

All it took was confidence. This business rewards winners, people who not only believe in themselves, but stake their reputations on themselves.

Believe in yourself.


Wanna tell Tripp Stryker how good his advice is? Shoot him an email at TrippleThreat69@hotmail.com

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Guest Blog: Getting Laid

Tripp Stryker continues his week of fill-in columns while The Bitter Script Reader is on vacation. Bitter will return next Monday.

I see a lot of people discussing various strategies about how to get agents. How should they politely query them? What should they put in their email subject line so that it doesn’t get deleted? How many months can they wait before calling to check on it? If you call to check on an email submission, will you be blacklisted? If you push more than one script will you seem arrogant?

Good God, you people are wusses. Worse, you’re insecure. And you know what people think of those who are insecure? They’re losers.

Getting an agent is like getting laid. In fact, it’s exactly like getting laid.

Most women decide in the first 30 seconds they meet you whether or not they’re going to sleep with you. It’s true. In less than a minute, they know if they are ever going to fuck you – so you Ducky’s out there waiting for that girl who sees you as “just a friend” to wake up and ravish you… it ain’t gonna happen.

The same is true with agents – they know right away. There’s no need to woo them, it’s just a numbers game. Some agents will say yes, some will say no. What you need to do as a writer is get through the “nos” fast enough so you can reach that “yes” without wasting your time on dead ends.

I recently went on a date with a young actress who’s currently a co-star on a very popular show. It was sort of a set-up through mutual acquaintances and we ended up meeting at the restaurant. We showed up, checked each other out and made the expected small talk for a few minutes until I cut right to it. I flat out told her that I could tell there was heat between us and that deep down she was just dying to get crazy with me. Before we’d even gotten past drinks, I suggested we take this to my place.

Well, she got all huffy and left right there. Most guys would says “Bitch!” Not me. She saved us both some time. I had a Saturday night free to prowl and find easy prey, and I hadn’t wasted more than 30 minutes. Hell, I hadn’t even wasted money on dinner. Pretty sweet, wouldn’t you say?

If she wanted to sleep with me, that totally would have worked. She totally would have been thrown by the fact that her lust was that obvious. Deep down, all women are insecure, especially the hot ones.

Don’t believe me? Do what I should have done in high school: go to the library and read every book about teenage girls and low self-esteem. They're manuals for how to hit the right insecurities. It’s like having the plans for the Death Star and being able to spot that one thermal exhaust port. I didn’t figure this out until the end of college, but it absolutely is effective.

The very next night I’m out a club with some agency buddies. You know the type, trying way too hard to act like they’re on Entourage. If I'm being truthful, they’re a bunch of posers, but they’re useful because they’re cocky enough and hot enough to lure the chicks in, then just big enough douchebags to make me look sexy by comparison. At best they’re bait. They’re no threat to my game because these guys have no idea what they’re doing.

So another TV starlet comes over. Total hottie. Her show’s not quite as big as the first girl’s but it’s been on longer – or at least it was on longer… really not sure if it was canceled. The point is, you’d know her face and body but you might have to dig for the name. Agency Tard #1 lures her in, having met her when he assisted her boss. Turns out the friend she came with just left with a hookup. Anyway, TV Girl’s totally giving me the eye, to the point of ignoring Former Assistant to keep engaging me in conversation.

The music’s loud, which gives me the perfect excuse to lean over the table and talk right into her ear. If the physics of this worked out, I’d usually suggest just moving to sit up against her. That wasn’t an option, but it did have the effect of shutting down all the other guys. Nothing makes it clear that she’s into only me by the fact that she leans across a table just to chat rather than respond to chatter from other guys trying to talk her up.

I waste little time dropping the bomb. After some cursory chit-chat, I say, “Let’s get out of here and take this back to your place.” She looks shocked at my boldness, but then I accuse her basically of undressing me with her eyes and suggest she should stop embarrassing herself. She denies it – saying she’s not looking for that tonight. I tell her that if that was true, she wouldn’t have bothered wearing her sexier underwear tonight.

I can tell I caught her off guard with this. She doesn’t know what to make of this – if I’m joking, if I’m insulting, or if I’m coming onto her. She tries the flirt. Big mistake for her. “What makes you think I am?” she says, in a tone of voice that totally tells me I’m right. I tell her, “If I’m not, let’s head out back and you can show me how wrong I am.”

She doesn’t have an answer for that. She leans back and just looks at me. I’ve run this game before, so I know to back off and let her think she’s losing my attention.

Three minutes later her foot is massaging my crotch. With her panties dangling from it. She’s got my attention. Our eyes meet, and we’re out of there before our companions even notice we’re missing.

It’s a numbers game.

Agents are just as insecure, and just as quick to judge if you’ll fill their needs. Sure, their logical side might say to take a day or so, really weigh the merits of you as a writer and then render a decision. But at the end of the day they can’t afford to open the trades tomorrow and see your name with another agency.

You have all the power. They are nobody. Their whole system is designed to make writers feel like the agents hold all the cards. It’s not about them letting you into the agency, it’s about you letting them get your work.

TV Girl wanted to fuck me. Her logical side probably was trying to tell her to get to know me better, or to feel me out first before taking that step – but deep down she wanted to do it. It was an instinct that was begging to be followed – all I did was jumpstart it before she found a reason not to listen to it. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by being forward.

And it’s exactly the same with agents.


Contact Tripp Stryker at TrippleThreat69@hotmail.com.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Guest Blog: Be a writer, not a whiner!

Hey all, Bitter here. I'm taking this week off for vacation and writing, so in my absence screenwriter Tripp Stryker has generously agreed to fill-in. Hope you guys find him entertaining. I'll be checking in via Twitter and email occasionally, but probably not with any regularity. See you next week!

I met The Bitter Script Reader a couple weeks ago at a party thrown by a mutual friend. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, email address and all that fun stuff. Not long after that, he sent out an email to most of his closer professional acquaintances hoping to get some fill-in columns for when he took a much-needed vacation. As it turns out, I was the only one to reply – but I had enough ideas for five people. (A common occurrence for me, by the by.) Which worked out because I knew it would take me a week to really cover everything you guys need to hear.

The truth: most of the stuff you read on this blog and other blogs is bullshit. The only thing more pathetic than a loser who argues that bold sluglines are an abomination is a loser who’s sense of self-worth is so low that he actually has to argue vehemently against a guy who thinks bold sluglines are a blight. How does this make you a better writer?

Seriously, every now and then I wade into screenwriting forums and other blogs to see these hot topics and what do you people argue over? What font to use, when and when not to bold and underline, whether or not to use “CONT’D” in dialogue. Here’s a tip – no one cares!

If this bullshit upsets you that much, you’re not a professional writer.

Does underlining something automatically render it invisible, or put it in Greek? It’s just words on a page, people!

Real writers make the rules, they don’t follow them. Wanna debate formatting? You ever read a Tarantino script? I defy you to find one “screenwriting rule” he’s followed.

Shane Black? Nobody wrote the way he did until he submitted it. He was the first guy to “talk to the reader” via wry asides. What if he said, “Oh no, I must write in this dry, boring way that my screenwriting professor taught me?” Except you know what? He didn’t have a screenwriting professor! He didn’t have anyone filling his head with stupid ideas about what to write and what not to write. He just wrote.

Real agents don’t care about this shit. A real agent would take a script that was submitted on colored paper, written in Times New Roman, with dialogue centered rather than offset by margins and they’d still read it on the merits of the writing. How do I know? Because I got repped off of a spec like that. And at one of the Big 5 at that.

The only people who care about this formatting bullshit are readers – the least experienced people in the company. How much skill does it take to read something and know if it’s good or bad? I’ve been doing that since first grade.

Here’s where some whiner is gonna pop up and say that it is our duty as writers to suck up to these readers or they might PASS. Thus, we have to do everything they say or they’ll put us on the industry-wide blacklist.

That just proves that you don’t know what you’re doing. If your fate is in the hands of a reader, you’ve already lost. Think of this as your first test. A real writer doesn’t go through readers, he goes around them. And it can be done. I did it in my first month of working in the business, but that’s a story for tomorrow.

Email Tripp Stryker at
TrippleThreat69@hotmail.com. Tripp Stryker doesn't do Facebook or Twitter - they cramp his style.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bonus Friday Free-for-All: Jon Stewart attacks Muslim radicals with the Go F**k Yourself Choir

Because this deserves to be preserved.... A bonus Friday-Free-for-All.

Many of you are probably aware of the recent controversy over the last two South Park episodes. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone celebrated their 200th episode last week with a plot that involved celebrities demanding that the town of South Park produce the prophet Mohammad so that they could rob him of his power not to be mocked. As the prophet cannot be seen or depicted according to Muslim religion, the creators chose to disguise him in a giant mascot outfit.

This raised the ire of some Muslim radicals, who announced via their website that “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”

As the article I linked explains, Theo van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker who was murdered by an Islamic extremist in 2004 after making a short documentary on violence against women in some Islamic societies. The posting on the site features a graphic photograph of Van Gogh with his throat cut and a dagger in his chest.

Now, these radicals weren't saying they would kill the violence or - mercy me! - even endorsing it. They were just "cautioning" that if South Park didn't stop exorcising their right to free speech, "someone" (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) would probably kill them.

But it's not a threat. No... of course not.

Well, Matt and Trey weren't cowed. They continued the story in Part II, which revealed that it was actually Santa in the mascot outfit. However Comedy Central not only bleeped every mention of Mohammad, but two entire speeches at the end that spoke out against giving into fear.

Standing up for free speech, Jon Stewart spent the first 10 minutes of the show attacking these Muslim radicals. This is a long clip, I know... but watch it. It's well worth it.


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
South Park Death Threats
http://www.thedailyshow.com/
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Friday Free-for-All: Phil Hartman

This probably won't be the first post I do in salute of the great Phil Hartman. After the last season, it seems like SNL has completely forgotten how to skewer a President in a funny way. Fred Armisan's Obama just stops the show dead almost every time he shows up. Every week, I find myself wondering when we'll get a cast member who's able to find the hilarious comic takes that Phil Hartman brought to his work

Here's Hartman as mastermind Ronald Reagan:



And here he is as Bill Clinton, jogging into McDonalds:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thursday Talkback: Guest bloggers

Hey guys, it looks like next week is going to be a busy week for me. I'm taking a much needed vacation and I'm currently taking several days off from reading in order to focus on a rewrite of my latest spec. I'm feeling really good about this one - like it could be The One. I really want to give it my full attention so I can't afford to take the time to write a few blog posts ahead of time.

So I just wanted to poll you guys and see how you felt about a few guest columnists next week. I'm hoping to get some friends to contribute, most of whom are aspiring writers. They're funny guys and great writers, but can't donate the time it takes to blog everyday.

So what do you say you give these guys a shot? Are you game? I haven't locked anyone in yet - a few aren't sure they have time to write, while others are nervous about being "the fill-in." They think I should just take the week off. I say there's a long tradition of cartoonists and columnists having someone fill in for their serial work, and I'd love to give a few writers a shot.

So what do you say? You up for a guest blogger or three next week?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Date Night: Hitchcock by way of 30 Rock and The Office

This past weekend I saw Date Night and found myself with unbidden flashbacks to my undergraduate days, sitting in a film classroom while my professor lectured on one of cinema's greatest minds. Having read some reviews of Date Night, I understand that while many viewers enjoyed it, there were a number of fans who were let down, partly because of the expectations they held for stars Steve Carrell and Tina Fey due to their TV shows.

That's where those viewers went wrong - this isn't 30 Rock or The Office on the big screen. As I sat back and watched the story unfold, I was thinking only one thing: This is pure Hitchcock.

Written by Josh Klausner, Date Night features the two stars as a married couple, the Fosters, that's in something of a rut. They've got two ornery kids who suck up all the time they aren't spending in their careers. Even their "date nights" out are so stale and routine that their friends know the details from memory - down to the dinners they always order. As we see in one bedroom scene, there's not even any room for romance in their relationship. The sex life seems non-existent, but it's not even that big a problem because neither of them has the energy for it anymore. It's clear - this is a marriage that's fallen into a deep slump.

So one weekend they decide to reignite the spark by getting into an exclusive new restaurant, and end up stealing a reservation from an no-show couple named the Tripplehorns. Bad move. It turns out some pretty bad people are looking for our no-shows and they want a stolen flashdrive returned. These thugs hold Steve and Tina at gunpoint in an alley, and our bewildered heroes only narrowly escape. When they go to the police, things only get worse, as it turns out our thugs are actually cops on the take.

This leads the married couple to do the only thing they can think of; find the real Tripplehorns, get back this flashdrive and give it to the bad guys in return for their lives.

This is textbook "innocent man on the run" storytelling, which just so happens to be one of my favorite genres, and there's nobody who did this kind of film better than Alfred Hitchcock. If he could turn on his computer, my film professor would be so proud that I'm using material I gleaned from his class in today's entry.

In his 1989 book Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, film commentator Robin Wood identifies 11 Hitchcock films that could be categorized as being about a wrongly accused man on the run. The formula for these films is simple, and deals with what could be termed a double chase. The hero, who also has to dodge the police in response to some element of the set-up, hunts the real criminals. In these films, the man is always innocent of the crimes he is accused of, but is guilty of some other transgression - often one that precludes him from seeking help from the authorities. The protagonist redeems himself for those crimes through his actions as he escapes his pursuers and exposes the real criminals.

Sound familiar?

Probably my favorite Hitchcock use of this trope is North by Northwest, screenplay by the great Ernest Lehman. In North by Northwest the protagonist is Roger O. Thornhill, played by Cary Grant. Thornhill is mistaken for a spy named George Kaplan by another group of spies. Those spies try to kill him, but he manages to escape and goes to the police. The spies thwart this and the police come away believing Thornhill’s claims are the ravings of a drunk. Even worse, Kaplan is later implicated in a murder that makes front-page news, which serves the purpose of forcing him to evade the police.

At this point, the audience (though not Thornhill) is made aware of part of the truth. There is no George Kaplan; he’s just an invention, a decoy so the spies won’t find the real agent sent by the Intelligence Bureau. The Bureau decides not to help Thornhill, but to take advantage of the fact that he has given the decoy life. Meanwhile, Thornhill boards a train and meets Eve Kendall. Though she helps Thornhill hide from the spies, she is quickly revealed to the audience as working with those men. She arranges for Thornhill to be alone out in the country, where he can be shot from a plane.

Thornhill escapes and realizes he’s been betrayed, catching up to Eve at an auction. This encounter ends with Thornhill in the hands of the authorities, where he learns the truth from the head of the CIA. Eve is actually the agent that the spies are looking for, but her cover is in danger. Thornhill agrees to “play” Kaplan one more time, so that Eve can shoot him (with a gun loaded with blanks) and reestablish her loyalties to the spies. Eventually Eve is discovered and Thornhill rushes to save her in a chase that leads to the faces on Mount Rushmore. By the end of the movie, the bad guys are defeated and Roger and Eve are married.

While the spy plot is somewhat complex, the focus is still on the protagonist's character growth. When Thornhill is introduced, he appears a very shallow character. An advertising executive, he seems to have an exaggerated notion of his own importance, and has two failed marriages. When he gets arrested, Thornhill calls his mother to bail him out. In fact, much of the early part of the film depicts Thornhill trying to convince his mother that his life really is in danger. The constant presence of Mother Thornhill makes Thornhill seem like a “momma’s boy” It is interesting to note that Mrs. Thornhill’s last appearance takes place only moments before Eve is introduced.

If the film is intended to show how Thornhill matures, then it only makes sense that Eve “replaces” Mrs. Thornhill as the primary female in Thornhill’s life. Some Freudian theorists believe that when men look for a woman to marry, they are subconsciously trying to replace their mother. Hitchcock might have intended this as one aspect of Thornhill’s growth, though there is other evidence of his maturation. By the end of the movie, he falls in love with Eve and puts his life at risk several times to save hers. The Thornhill introduced at the start of the picture would never climb the rocks by the lodge and risk his life to save another. Given the choice at the start of the adventure, Thornhill never would have willingly assumed the identity of Kaplan, but he does this by the end.

Despite the complexity of the story, the spy plot is still ultimately a means to an end. The real end game is Thornhill's character growth. The MacGuffin in this story is a strip of microfilm that Eve must keep from falling into the wrong hands. The microfilm is the entire basis for the spy plot, but what it contains or will be used for is of little consequence to the audience. How this affects Roger Thornhill is what gives the film meaning. As the audience sees Thornhill develop as a character, they are drawn into his dilemma. As involving as the spy plot is, it never takes the focus of the film away from Thornhill and the emphasis on character development.

And that's the same sort of structure you can find in Date Night. The whole film is based around the Fosters finding this flashdrive. For most of the movie we don't even know what's on this flashdrive, and you know what? We don't really care. All that matters is that the bad guys want it. And even that is only important because it's all a device to get the Fosters on the run, where they can work through the real issue: the malaise their marriage has fallen into.

This is not a movie about mobsters, crooked cops, dirty politicians and blackmail. This is a film about a couple that has become a prisoner of their own routines, and the story of how they break out of it and rediscover their passion. For the first time in ages, they're out of their comfort zone. Without getting too deep into spoilers, they're thrown into several high adrenaline situations, as well as one that forces Fey's character to dress up like a stripper. This not only reminds Carrell that his wife is a sexual being (God I wish I had a better term for that), but it reminds Fey that she is too.

(So I guess that means that if the sex has gone stale, the key is to get the wife to play stripper? But I digress...)

That's the real climax of the movie - the two of them jumpstarting the old flames. Everything else is just disposing of the loose ends. Actually, it's here that I'd argue the script makes its only real misstep. Without giving too much away, the flashdrive has blackmail material and the reveal of what's on that drive tips off one character to the fact that another character has double-crossed them.

Honestly, that's probably making the film too complicated. Even without the reveal of that extra double-cross, it's still possible to make that disc important and get all the necessary players who are seeking it into that final confrontation. It's an extra little twist that doesn't really affect everything that lead up to it and it absolutely has no impact on the resolution of the Foster's marriage story.

It's not a crippling problem, though. One can still follow the plot and the climax still does what it needs to with regard to tying up the script. I'm just saying that my vote would have been for simplicity. Sure, tell us what's on the disk. Show us why certain major players would want it, but don't try to get me invested in conflict between two characters who have maybe a grand total of ten minutes of screentime between them.

That very minor quibble aside, I rather enjoyed the movie. It might not be what people expected when they heard about the teaming of Michael Scott and Liz Lemon, but it's a fun movie in its own right.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesday Talkback: Sexism and Damsels in Distress

I was reading Entertainment Weekly last week and there was a feature in there about Angelina Jolie's new movie Salt. Originally, the action film was set to star Tom Cruise as a CIA agent who gets accused of being a Russian sleeper spy. When Cruise dropped out, the role was rewritten as a woman to accommodate the casting of Angelina Jolie.

There's an interesting part of the article where they discuss how this caused a domino effect in how the rest of the script was rewritten. Director Philip Noyce says, "In the original script, there was a huge sequence where Edwin Salt saves his wife, who's in danger. And what we found was when Evelyn Salt saved her husband in the new script, it seemed to castrate his character a little, so we had to change the nature of that relationship."

Interesting that it wasn't considered degrading for a woman to be rescued as a damsel in distress, but the instant a man was put in that part the whole attitude changed. I know I have a fair number of female readers, so I put it to you - is that sexist of the creators? If it was okay to have a less than heroic wife as the victim, why did the husband need to be rewritten as more assertive?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reader question: Guru beat sheets

Robert left this question on the Facebook page:

I've heard it said from credible sources that if a screenplay follows this or that structure guru's structure to a fault, and has beats exactly where a particular beat sheet says to place them, many readers will simply toss the screenplay.

Hogwash.

I've tossed out many scripts for having no structure, for following no discernible pattern, but to throw out a script because the inciting incident occurs on p. 12 and the Act Two turning point occurs on p. 25 is utter idiocy. That's no less stupid that a reader who would throw out a script because the inciting incident happens on p. 14 rather than p. 12.

Having said that, if your inciting incident doesn't happen until p. 20, there's a problem. If it takes 40 pages to get to anything resembling a turning point, there's a problem. Those are major pacing issues and if there's nothing in the first 15-30 pages to really hook the reader, yeah, you're screwed.

But I've never heard of a reader saying "The structure in this script is too textbook! Beggone! To the waste bin with thee!"

Having said that, there are a few of these screenwriting gurus who seem to be a bit full of themselves and seem to come up with their own overly-complicated methods purely so they can charge an arm and a leg just to hook in some poor saps to take their courses. I like McKee, and he's earned his cred as a "guru." The late Blake Snyder certainly did too. Syd Field? No question, so don't think I'm lumping them in with the ones I dislike.

Whether or not this is true for you or not, what are some things that will make you immediately disregard a script?

Too long.
Too short.
Too many brads
Not enough brads
Opening is too funny
Opening is not funny enough
Characters with bland names
Characters with weird names
Setting is too unusual
Setting is too conventional
Too much description
Not enough description

In all seriousness, and I hope this doesn't come off too curt, this blog is full of posts about the things that turn me off, either right away or over the course of a script. Check out the archives.

But since it can't be stated enough - this is the sort of shit that really counts against you before I've read one word:

The wrong font.

Too long - which for you should mean anything over 120 pages. Give a guy like me a 135 page script and you might as well have stamped PASS on it yourself.

First several pages filled with excessive wordy description. Screenplays have more white space than text. If your first page looks more like a novel than a screenplay, I'm going to assume you don't know what you're doing.

I'm not allowed to PASS right away based on any of that stuff but you can be sure none of that will endear you to me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Free-for-All: ALF outtakes

There are few things funnier than a furry puppet remaining in character when a scene breaks down. Do you need further proof of that? Here are some outtakes from ALF:




Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reader question: Flashbacks

Via the Facebook Fan Page, Matthildur asks:

What's your opinion of Flashback sequences? Do you find them annoying? Do you think that all the flashbacks should be related? or do you think it's a lazy way of explaining backstory? I'd really like to know?

It all depends on how they're used. In the wrong context, yes they can be lazy ways of explaining backstory but there are plenty of films that have used flashbacks wonderfully. Think of all the flashbacks in Citizen Kane and how they add to the fabric of the story.

When I read your question I immediately thought of both Batman Begins and Watchmen, both of which used flashbacks to illuminate the backstory of their main characters in a way that didn't fell lazy or weak. What makes the difference there is that the flashbacks all fit into the fabric of the larger main story. It was necessary for us to see Bruce Wayne's parents being killed and how he reacted years later to their killer being freed because all of that played into his character arc in the "present." In fact, it was the root of his character arc to such a degree that not showing us all that information would have resulted in an incomplete story.

Where I've seen flashbacks go wrong is when they're used to show us things that have nothing to do with the plot, and really don't even contribute to the main character's arc. Backstory isn't always essential to the main narrative. A lot of writers make the mistake of thinking that if they give their characters an angst-ridden history, or some unrelated tragedy in their past, that the audience will automatically relate to them.

I've seen this happen more than once. Deep in Act Two, there'll come a time when the main character has a long, dialogue-driven scene with the second lead. There'll usually be some revealing confession like their father beat them when they were young, they got pregnant and had an abortion at sixteen, or grew up not realizing just how stupid The Nanny really was. They'll get this off their chest, and the confession will make the second bananna realize "Wow, there' s more to you than I thought all along. You're senstive and deep."

Retch.

Most of the time you can tell this scene is a quick patch on a note that likely read along the lines of "Your main character has no depth. Can you flesh them out a bit? Maybe tell us something about their backstory?" And since this scene is often forced in after the fact it rarely has any real connection to the plot, the themes or the rest of the script. It's filler.

Usually when I see a scene like this in a script I'm reading for the writer, I'll tell them that it doesn't work for me. I'll mention that it's all telling and no showing, breaking one of the screenwriting "rule." Often I'll suggest that we should "see" what's revealed via this scene elsewhere in the screenplay.

And what do they usually do in the next draft? They turn the monologue scene into a flashback. Now it's not "telling," it's "showing," right?

*Faceplam*

No, it's still "telling" us in a way - because it's such an on-the-nose way of revealing backstory. If I'm aware that this whole scene exists only to give exposition, then it's on-the-nose. It lacks the depth of something like the Batman Begins flashbacks, which feel utterly necessary to understanding the story and the Bruce Wayne character.

So you're on to something when you ask if it helps for all the flashbacks to be related. I say it's even better when the flashbacks reveal things that are essential parts of the story.

UPDATE: I swear we didn't plan it this way, but Scott covers some other flashback questions today over at Go Into The Story. I don't plug him enough, but his is one of the more informative writing blogs out there. Bookmark it if you haven't already.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reader question: Vertical writing

Mary Hart (presumably not the Entertainment Tonight host) asks:

Wondering what your opinion is on a vertical writing style (Alien, Wall-E) for a spec script vs. the traditional paragraph format. As a reader, do you prefer one over the other?

This is somewhat timely because a few weeks ago I had to cover two scripts that were not only not written vertically, but had really long paragraphs and were both at 119 pages. It certainly left the impression that the writers were trying hard to squeeze everything into under 120 pages. Rather than actually cut down some of their writing, they opted to squeeze as much of it as they could to get the page count down.

Bad move. That trick makes the script hard to read. The harder the script is to read, the harder it is to get a Consider.

First Commandment of Screenwriting: Thou shalt not make it hard on the reader.

Second Commandment of Screenwriting: Thou shalt leave more white space than text on the page.

Vertical writing ensures both of these rules will be followed.

I've talked a little bit about Vertical Writing before, but I didn't specifically label it that. The old adage is, "screenplays are read down, not across." The ugly truth is that readers skim. A lot. Most of us are speed readers and that's made a heck of a lot easier when the page is written vertically, as opposed to having large blocks of descriptive text.

Let me see if I can give you an example. This is description written horizontally:

JAMES BARTON (22) enters his apartment carrying a bundle of mail. He sets it on the table, including a small brown package. He hesitates. Carefully he pulls out a knife and cuts open the packing tape. Reaching inside he pulls out a silver ID bracelet with the name “Carrie” inscribed on it. He impassively stares at it, then tosses it across the room. Moving, he closes all the blinds in the living room. One by one. Without looking, he plucks a particular magazine from the shelf. Playboy. He sits down on the sofa – the magazine in his left hand while his right hand disappears towards his belt, below frame…

Obviously, since Blogger is going to make the page even narrower than a screenplay page, this isn't a perfect example, but I think you get the idea. That's a lot of description to wade through and it's probably going to be hard to skim that easily. But look at what happens when we add a lot of line breaks in order to make the scene read "vertically."

JAMES BARTON (22) enters his apartment carrying a bundle of mail.

He sets it on the table, including a small brown package.

He hesitates.

Carefully he pulls out a knife and cuts open the packing tape.

Reaching inside he pulls out a silver ID bracelet


The name “Carrie” inscribed on it.

He impassively stares at it, then tosses it across the room.

Moving, he closes all the blinds in the living room. One by one.

Without looking, he plucks a particular magazine from the shelf.

Playboy.

He sits down on the sofa – the magazine in his left hand while his right hand disappears towards his belt, below frame…


Did that read better? It certainly looks better on the page, and it’s a lot easier to skim.

This also means that it takes up more space, so writing this way is a great way to force oneself to be sparing in their descriptions.

As a reader, I like the vertical writing style. I don't think there's anything wrong when a paragraph has to be two or three lines, but vertical writing is a helluva lot easier to read quickly and still retain everything.

So to answer your question, Mary, yes, I absolutely prefer vertical writing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tuesday Talkback: Cancel this show! Cancel One Tree Hill!

It's that time of year where network executives are looking at their new pilots and deciding what to pick up - as well as what to drop from their current slate. If you could cancel one show, what would it be?

I'd love to cancel Law & Order: Special Victims Unit because despite a brief period from seasons 2-5 where it wasn't terrible, it's pretty much gotten steadily worse each year. The writing is some of the worst on TV and the main characters have descended into unlikable parodies of each other. I watch to see Richard Belzer, Ice-T, and Stephanie March, but Ice is the only one of the three who isn't a part timer. I'd say it's time to take this dog out back and shoot it, but for the fact that it's one of NBC's highest rated dramas.

How the hell that happens when the mothership Law & Order has had some of its strongest writing in a long time during these last three seasons, I'll never understand.

So since that show is bulletproof, let me nominate One Tree Hill. A show that's dedication to terrible writing has in no way impeded its addictiveness. This show has survived more deaths that Rasputin, as it has closed every season since 2006 as a "bubble show" - with cancellation a near certainty.

And god help, me I've watched every season. Don't worry - I'm not part of the problem. It's not ratings that have saved this show from the brink each year so much as the fan campaigns. Teenyboopers who actually think this show is good have saved it from cancellation. In 2006, Everwood died for OTH's survival. The following year it was Veronica Mars' turn. Now, it's the main show that stands in Life Unexpected's way.

One Tree Hill has had seven seasons and has lost two of the four most important characters. It's time to put it out to pasture and let the two or three talented actors associated with this show find better work.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Save Life Unexpected!

In some ways it's odd that this blog focuses so much on feature writing because I am such an insanely huge TV junkie. In fact, over the last few years I'd argue I've been vastly more entertained by my weekly shows than in the latest film offerings from the studios. Sure, there have been some great, even exceptional movies in that time - but TV has more consistently engaged me.

That's why it always makes me sad when I see a really creative and entertaining series threatened with cancellation. I've lost many good shows over the last few years while unimaginative garbage like Private Practice and Special Victims Unit goes on and on. And yeah, I know that's because those shows put up numbers that my favorites don't - but I hate to see quality TV ignored.

There might be calls for me to turn in my man-card and my critical analysis card after this, but I've always had a soft spot for what could be called "the WB dramas." I started college in 1998, the "Golden Age" of the WB. This was a magical time - when vampires turned to dust, not sparkled in sunlight; when one called Katie Holmes "hot" without irony and didn't even dare to dream she'd do a nude scene in a movie; when J.J. Abrams told stories about characters and not byzantine mythological shellgames.

Trust me, when you're 18 and surrounded by people your own age who are passionate about shows like Buffy and Dawson's Creek, you get sucked in big time. In the fall of 1998, Buffy had really hit its stride and was starting what would turn out to be arguably it's best season. Dawson's Creek was starting season two - which is arguably it's worst season, but at that point the actors were still engaging enough to draw you back each week.

Basically, Joss Whedon was my gateway drug into the WB teen drama genre. Buffy wasn't a stupid little teen vampire show about forbidden love between a vampire slayer and a vampire. It was sharp, witty drama that used its monster metaphors as the subtext for growing up. The fact that it had some of the best dialogue on TV didn't hurt either. The Buffy/Angel relationship was always my least favorite aspect of the series, but I really connected with most of the other characters and their relationships. That drew me back week-after-week.

And sure enough, the WB learned to play to that market the following year. Angel got his own spinoff, which in time proved to be darker, more mature - and possibly even better than the concurrent seasons of Buffy. There was also Roswell, a drama about three aliens living as teenagers in Roswell, New Mexico, who face exposure after one of them falls in love with a female classmate and saves her life. Over the next three seasons, Roswell's own search for identity would mirror that of its characters. Despite the inconsistency, the cast was appealing enough to bring me back every week.

(Translation: I had a major crush on Shiri Appleby, and this show also featured Katherine Heigl in her prime, before we had any inkling what a harpy she really was.)


But the WB didn't always need the supernatural in order to sell its drama. By sheer happenstance in the fall of 2000, I happened to leave the TV on long enough to catch the opening minutes of Gilmore Girls and was instantly pulled in by the characters and the concept. The hook: A woman who got pregnant at 16 is raising her teenage daughter alone, with the two of them more like sisters. In order to pay for her daughter's private school, the mother must renew ties with the wealthy parents she walked out on after giving birth. It was a great character-driven concept, elevated by strong actors and snappy dialogue.

When I think of the shows I watched in my college years - the WB shows always spring to mind. (Just so you don't get the wrong idea, those weren't the only shows I watched. My tastes also ended up on the other end of the spectrum, with Law & Order, ER, Homicide, and The X-Files.)

But it feels like that once those shows reached the end of their lifespan, that genre disappeared for a while. Everwood - possibly one of my all-time favorite shows - was born in 2002, but faded away after four seasons, and though Veronica Mars was sharp and called "the new Buffy," it too lived a short life. No other network has been able to pull these dramas off quite like the WB, even when they've employed the same creators or even the same casts.

Which is why I've gotten so into Life Unexpected, a drama that's so old school WB that it might well have arrived here via time machine. The hook: 16 year-old Lux (Britt Robertson, an amazing young actress and one of the few bright spots in CBS' Swingtown) tracks down the two parents (Shiri Appleby, Kristopher Polaha) who gave her up for adoption at birth, following a one-night stand in high school. Lux has spent the last 16 years being bounced from foster home to foster home, and hopes to get emancipated so she can live on her own. Instead, the court sends her into the custody of her parents, who haven't seen each other since high school. Her father Baze runs a bar and still has a lot of growing up to do, while her mother Cate is a local celebrity radio personality and is engaged to her co-host (Dawson's Creek's Kerr Smith.)


The show has had the usual growing pains - and there were a few weeks there where the characters' conflicts with each other ran the risk of being too formulaic and predictable, but in the latter half of the season the show really came into its own. As this post goes live, episodes 10-12, the three best episodes of the season so far, can be accessed here. The actors have great chemistry and the writers do a good job of slowly revealing more about the characters as they mature.

And yes, it features my old crush Shiri Appleby, who clearly either spends her evenings bathing in the blood of virgins or has a portrait aging for her because she looks almost exactly like she did on Roswell, which was - gasp! - ten years ago!

At the moment, it's "on the bubble" - at risk for cancellation and I can't think of a show I'd be sorrier to lose, save for it's competition NBC's Chuck. The difference is that Chuck has had three seasons to find its audience, while Life Unexpected really deserves a second shot. And I'm not just saying that because show-runner Liz Tigelaar seems like a cool person and actually answered a few of my questions via Twitter one night.

I urge any fans of quality TV to tune into Life Unexpected's season finale tonight. Check out the episodes I linked above and then join Liz Tigelaar's LIFE UNEXPECTED page on Facebook to get fun behind-the-scenes photos and updates on how you can help save the show.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday Free-for-All: Bert & Ernie

Like most of my generation, I grew up with Sesame Street as one of my earliest TV shows. Even now, several decades later there are several skits that are pretty well embedded in my memory. I came of age before the rise of Elmo so my favorite characters were Bert and Ernie and these two bits remind me of many, many family trips where I had to sleep in the same room as my brother.



Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reader questions: Titles and Celebrity cameos

I've got a couple questions that have been answered in various versions before, but it seemed like a good time to restate them in their own entries rather than as passing comments made in larger reviews.

This question comes to us from Anthony via the Bitter Script Reader Fan Page on Facebook:

Vulgarity in titles. It seems to becoming more acceptable. Ie: Kick-Ass and Inglorious Basterds. I have a dark comedy titled Stupid Bitches. Acceptable? Lol seriously the title could not be anymore perfect, I can't bring myself to change it.

At this point, I'd say that it's not something you need to worry about excessively. At present there are scripts called "Fuckbuddies" and "I Want to F**k Your Sister" floating around in development, and several people observed that last year's Black List had several titles of this ilk. I'd say that it can work as a gimmick to make your title - and hopefully your script, by extension - memorable. So long as the crass or vulgar title fits the tone of your script, I'd say you're on safe ground.

In other works, I wouldn't suggest retitling "Up" as "Fuckin' House on Balloons, Man!"

Odds are that the most crass titles will be renamed before release, though. The MPAA (or the FCC, I can't remember which) has pretty strict obscenity limits on what words can be used in film advertisements that air before 10pm. Thus, A Couple of Dicks becomes Cop Out, and Zack & Miri Make a Porno gets advertised as Zack & Miri.

If Fuckbuddies gets made, they'll totally rename it Friends With Benefits. Mark my words.

David asks:

I've had a fairly decent idea for a script that involves a celebrity acting as themselves. Is it worth going beyond the "Yeah, that's a funny idea" stage with something like this? Is an unknown writer going to be able to sell, for example, Jack Nicholson solving crimes in his spare time?

In my humble opinion - it's a bit of a risk. To restate what I said back in my Zombieland review, The celebrity cameo is something that usually makes my eyes roll in a spec script, mostly because my first thought is "What happens to this scene if Alan Thicke says 'no?'" This sort of gimmick got popular after Neil Patrick Harris popped up as himself in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and stole the movie. Now, you could say that if NPH had turned down the cameo, they just would have offered it to Fred Savage or Jaleel White. As true as that is, I think it's a risk when you put something like this in your spec.

The way I see it, throwing in a celebrity is a lot like specifically naming an expensive song for your musical montage. Suddenly, you're mandating elements that could back the producers into a corner. For example, if your joke is crucial to the second act climax, and it only works if Dean Cain shows up in Superman tights and reveals he really can fly... well, you might be setting up a difficult problem to solve if Dean decides he doesn't want to play ball - or he will, but only if he gets paid through the nose.

On top of that, a lot of celebrity cameos usually feel like weak attempts to just get a laugh out of how out of context the appearance is. I'll admit, I enjoyed when William Shatner played himself (or at least a version of himself) in Free Enterprise, but Bruce Willis' cameo in Ocean's Twelve was just painful to watch. You could practically feel the filmmakers elbowing the audience in the ribs saying, "Well? Well? Aren't we clever?"

Now, in your case David, you're talking about centering an entire movie on this sort of actor-playing-himself premise. In that case, take every warning I gave about cameos and quadruple it. It's a risk to do something like that in your first script because it makes all the odds you're up against that much longer.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tuesday Talkback: What's in a name?

Movies like HOT TUB TIME MACHINE and SNAKES ON A PLANE give the impression that they were developed with the title first and the actual plot later. Inspired by that, I thought today it would be fun to challenge everyone to either pitch a ridiculous title and a quick logline to go with it, or see what great loglines you could come up with for some of my own silly titles.

Here are my suggestions for inane titles that may make their way to a multiplex near you. See if you can come up with a funny pitch:

WET T-SHIRT CONTEST
USED CAR BLOWOUT
EXHIBITION GAME
DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME
VALET PARKING

Do any of these sound like titles that would get you to the theatre on name alone?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Rejection letter - Spoof Movie

Dear [Redacted]

Thank you for your submission GALLERIA GUARDIAN MOVIE. I appreciate you advising me ahead of time that it was a spoof movie in the tradition of the SCARY MOVIE series. Not having seen PAUL BLART: MALL COP, I would not have been in a position to recognize that 60% of your screenplay was indistinguishable from the original film, save for the occasional addition of a fart or ejaculation moment.

(Kudos on playing that latter joke in the salad dressing scene, by the way. I assure you no one will see that one coming.)

Regrettably, this script doesn't suit our needs at this time. As you might know, the spoof movie has a very short shelf life and most of films you spoof (PAUL BLART, OBSERVE & REPORT, SAW, I LOVE YOU MAN, THE READER, and of course, MAC & ME) have all already been chewed up and spit out by pop culture. By the time this film could be cast, produced, and released, nearly every pop culture reference in here would be incredibly out of date.

Furthermore, you borrow from those films so liberally that it borders on plagerism. Your one saving grace is that even though you copy at last 3/4 of the dialogue almost directly from the source material, somehow the mere process of running it through the rendering plant that is your copy of Final Draft manages to make the writing so dumb that no legitimate author would ever want to actually fight for ownership of it.

No, I don't need you to send me an updated copy, no matter how much you love the riff on HOT TUB TIME MACHINE you came up with last weekend. Usually these spoof movies work best trying to wring laughs from material that wasn't humorous in the first place. (So at least in that regard, you were quite astute in building much of the film around OBSERVE & REPORT.)

Before you waste another two hours writing a spoof movie compilation of 2012 & ALICE IN WONDERLAND (don't steal that idea, I'm working on it myself) let me give you nickel's worth of free advice. Spoof movies are pretty much the lowest form of spec writing these days. In the old days, the genre still represented creativity. The filmmakers would take the broad strokes of a premise or plot of a major movie rather than cribbing directly for most of the film. Characters might be evocative of specific characters from other films, but rarely to the degree that your writing demonstrates. The plots were also less directly cribbed. For instance HOT SHOTS was similar to TOP GUN really only in that both movies were about hot shot fighter pilots who have romances with female instructors. The stories were completely different.

In contrast, most of your jokes are entirely based on taking bits that were funnier in other movies and simply retelling them. The thought process behind any joke seems to be “Hey, remember how funny this gag was in a much better context?”

If this genre isn’t dead yet, scripts like yours will kill it.

I am not returning your submission to you as you requested. I couldn't bear to keep it in my office for one moment longer than necessary so I shredded it and then burned the pieces.

Best of luck in your writing career,

The Bitter Script Reader

Friday, April 2, 2010

Friday Free-for-All: Wonder Woman

In honor of our little April Fool's joke yesterday, I figured it was fair to devote this week's Free-for-All to Wonder Woman, specifically to the only live-action incarnation of the character. For three seasons, Lynda Carter starred as the blue-trunks wearing superhero. Though the show itself is remembered as being cheesy, it's pretty clear from all the press of the subsequent efforts to get a Wonder Woman movie going that whoever steps into the role next will have to compete with the memory of Carter.

This is a fan-edited montage of moments from the show. It's a little long, but gives the flavor of the series.



And this is a recent TV profile of Lynda Carter. I'd be lying if I said she looked good for a woman of 58. She looks great for a woman of 48!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

EXCLUSIVE ! "Wonder Woman" script review!

Settle in kids, because I'm about to do something new. Through a contact at mine whom I can't even allude to, I have gotten a copy of the new script for Wonder Woman, which the good people at Warners have been trying to get off the ground forever! There was briefly some momentum on it about four years ago when writing god Joss Whedon was attached to it, but after his take failed to gain any heat, the project quietly slunk back into development hell.

For those who don't know, DC Comics recently underwent a restructuring and as part of this, parent company Warner Brothers created DC Entertainment, which is "charged with strategically integrating the DC Comics business, brand and characters deeply into Warner Bros. Entertainment and all its content and distribution businesses." Green Lantern was already in pre-production at that point, and recent rumblings have indicated some new movement on new films featuring Superman and the Flash, but nothing about Wonder Woman.

Until now.

This draft is dated Jan 2010, and it's got the usual studio codes and watermarks all over this thing. Odds are they can trace a specific code back to a specific person, so do not email me asking to see this copy. I really can't afford to get my contact in trouble. Given the secrecy attached to this project, he'd (or she) would probably be fired even if Warners just suspected they were the leak. If they had proof, this individual would have to leave the business altogether. I know Whedon's writing when I see it, so I can say that if this is a rewrite of whatever Whedon turned in there's probably less of him in this than in X-Men. There's no screenwriter on the title page, unless you could the obvious nom de plume of "Billy Marston." (Wonder Woman's creator is William Moulton Marston.)

Given that a writer has 12 weeks to turn in a studio draft, that would mean that if this was turned in the last week of January that the contract was likely started in late October. DC Entertainment was announced on September 9, so while there's time for this to have been rushed into development after that, I'd guess this was in the works slightly longer. Thus, there's always the chance that DC Ent gave notes on this similar to what I will.

Wonder Woman is a tough character to crack, as there's so much backstory to the Amazons that one must wade through before one even gets to how Princess Diana becomes Wonder Woman. In fact, to set up Amazon culture right could take 15 minutes to a half-hour. Maybe in the 70s, audiences were willing to wait almost an hour to see Christopher Reeve as Superman, but that's not gonna fly here.

Thus, the first thing in the script is a long voiceover/montage that covers about five pages. It's been ages since I saw Fellowship of the Ring, but a voice buzzing in the back of my mind tells me that it's like this. Here's the Cliff Notes of the montage - the Amazons were warrior women chosen by the Goddess Hera and rewarded for their faith in her with eternal life. They were isolationists, but not unwelcoming to men... until Hercules came with his men.

(Side note - they fuck up the pantheons here. If Hera is the goddess, then the demi-god should be Heracleas.)

As one of his labors, Hercules sought to get the Golden Girdle of Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. In this version, he's acting at the behest of Ares, God of War, which seems like an odd choice until later in the script. Hercules seduces the Queen, as his men did likewise with the other Amazons, then enslaves them all. It's also made disturbingly clear that they rape the Amazons too. It's just a few lines in a montage (as is everything I've described so far), but the voiceover from a character we soon learn is Hippolyta makes it clear these violations happen.

I get why they did this, but I wish they hadn't, as it leads to some really screwed up stuff later.

Anyway, the Amazons pray to their goddess for help and she grants them the strength to break their bonds. However, as a penance, they must always wear the wrist bracelets to remind them of their bondage. Should those bracelets ever be chained again, the Amazon will lose all her strength and the will to resist. Hera offers Hippolyta and her followers the refuge of an island that cannot be easily discovered, where they will remain safe from the outside world. Hippolyta accepts it and many of the Amazons follow... but not all of them.

A splinter group of Amazons, lead by Hippolyta's own sister decline to go into isolation, renouncing their immortality and their faith in Hera. Mostly though, they seem ticked at Hippolyta's leadership, which lead to them all being taken prisoner in the first place.

All of that is in the first ten pages. Enough backstory to choke a horse, but we're not even done yet. Hippolyta tells us that after several centuries in isolation, she began to long for a child. She even sculpts a child out of the clay of one of the beaches, and the God's of Olympus grant her life. Demeter gives her power and strength, Hermes speed and flight, Aphrodite gives her beauty, Athena gives her wisdom, and Artemis gives her the eye of the hunter.

Thus is born Princess Diana.

Wonder what it must have been like to be the only child on an island full of women who are eternally in their twenties and thirties and look like supermodels? Well, too bad.. we don't get any of that. Hippolyta's voiceover is revealed as part of a ceremony in which a now adult Diana (she's described as "early 20s") at last receives her ceremonial bracelets. Seems like this is the sort of thing that might have been done when she was younger, but I'll go with it.

There are two ways one could go with the premise of an innocent born onto an island of man-haters. She could be Ariel from The Little Mermaid, curious about the outside world, and perhaps even optimistic that men really aren't as bad as the legends say. Or she could totally drink the Kool-Aid and be utterly mistrustful of men on sight, convinced that any man who sees her is prepared to enslave her as her sisters were once enslaved.

Unfortunately, the script goes the latter route. The first time through this really ticked me off in the first act because all the hope and optimism that Diana is supposed to represent in the comics are replaced with a woman who's been as brainwashed by the anti-man propaganda as the Hitler Youth were by the Third Reich. After reading the rest of the script, I get why they went this way - it gives Diana an arc where she can go from hating men to embracing the outside world and even growing close to a man. In script-writing terms, I get it.

But it's not Wonder Woman. And it's a HUGE turn off to the character for nearly half the script.

Diana's out swimming alone one day when she witnesses the crash of a military plane flown by Col. Steve Trevor. Steve bails out and parachutes to the beach of the Amazon's island, whereupon he has a Meet Cute with Diana that basically consists of her accusing him of being the vanguard of an invasion and kicking his ass. Steve doesn't help matters with a cocky, flirtatious attitude from the start, but he doesn't make any aggressive moves. Diana basically beats him up for leering at her.

Side note about Steve: he's one of the script's bright spots, sort of a cross between Han Solo and Tom Cruise in Top Gun. In the comics, Steve tends to be bland but here he's written as a womanizing daredevil who doesn't take any shit. Maybe it's that he keeps taking the piss out of Diana, but he's a lot of fun.

Anyway, the Amazons prepare to interrogate Steve when Hera appears in a vision. Somehow, she intuits that Steve's presence there is actually the result of a scheme that the evil god Ares has against her and the Amazons. To her credit, Hera is disgusted by the aggression and violence her charges display to the first man they've seen in centuries, and instead offers a Golden Lasso, which will non-violently compel Steve to tell the truth. Her harshest words are directed at Diana, saying that the girl has a lot to learn and while the others have the "excuse" of having been victims before, she's lived a pampered life of privilege so there's no excuse for her aggression. A look passes between Hera and the Queen here, and Hipployta herself seems concerned about what her daughter has become.

Steve has no knowledge of this Ares and says he was just following orders. Hera is certain that the influence of Ares clouds his actions, but sensing him to be a decent man, orders Hippolyta to release him. Hippolyta decrees that they will send an Ambassador to return Steve to his world and then investigate what influence, if any Ares has over Steve's people. Naturally, Diana is chosen as that Ambassador, and Hera even supplies her with Amazonian armor that is redesigned to reflect the colors and symbols of Steve's homeland.

Yeah, the famed Wonder Woman bathing suit costume is reimagined. It's described as being like the armor of a Roman warrior, with a metal WW/eagle breast emblem atop a red leather corset, golden girdle, and warrior skirt in dark blue. Red leather boots top off the outfit while the tiara seems to be explained as part of Diana's everyday wear. There's no design art included, but the costume sounds like a decent interpretation of the outfit as warrior gear with the inherent silliness of the comic outfit. Take one look at Lynda Carter's outfit on the TV series to see how well that would work by modern standards.

So we're into the second act and suddenly the film becomes a bit of a romantic comedy. Diana flies Steve home but the trip is soon interrupted by a mid-air disaster. Due to poor air traffic control, a commuter jet wanders into a training exercise (we later learn that this military exercise was off-the-books and unofficial, giving a little more reason for how this happens.) Steve convinces Diana that she has to save the plane, and though the whole setpiece is perhaps WAY too close to Superman Returns, it does give Diana a very public superhero debut.

While everyone is buzzing about who this "Wonder Woman" is Steve somehow gets her a job as his assistant (pilots have secretaries? Who knew?) despite the fact she has no social security number and no ID. (There's passing mention of "a friend at the CIA" helping him get her credentials, but a LOT of this is hard to swallow, even if it is relatively faithful to how it works in the comics.)

Aside from Diana biting Steve's head off at every turn (predictably she chafes when asked to do assistant tasks like getting coffee and filing), the script turns into a fish-out-of-water story for a lot of the second act. There are some funny bits - and many dumb ones. There's another secretary at the military base who might as well have stepped right out of Sex & The City. This scene mainly exists to hang a lantern on the fact that Diana's a virgin (duh!) and that she finds the very idea of the act repugnant.

This actually could have been a funny idea, putting the virginal Wonder Woman up against a Samantha-type. What keeps it from working is the subtext that Diana equates sex with rape. It's a can of worms that could have easily been avoided by merely having Hercules simply take the Amazons prisoner. But more on this later.

There are also the predictable "Diana gets amazed by our culture" jokes. Most of these fall flat, with the low point being when she turns to MTV and sees Beyonce's "Single Ladies" video. At first it seems like the scene is content to play out with a dry remark from Diana about how the dancing reminds her of some of the more juvenile rituals on her island, but it goes south when she starts studying the dance moves. (And since when did MTV play music videos?)

The payoff for this is when the assistant drags her out for a girls night at the club, and we're "treated" to a "comedy" scene of Diana dancing to "Single Ladies" like in the video. It's like the "Thriller" moment in 13 Going on 30, only even more embarrassing. Given how dated this would make the film, I'm praying it's a placeholder for another gag.

There is a nice moment in here, though. As Diana departs from her Girl's Night, she hears cries from a nearby apartment. A woman is being beaten by her husband and while it's clear many people on the street (and probably a few of the neighbors) can hear her cries, no one moves to help her. Donning her armor, Diana smashes through a wall of the building and deals with the abuser. It's a nice moment of heroism.

Alongside this, the main plot develops. Steve has a battleaxe boss named Col. Artemis, and that name should be a tip-off to any fans of Wonder Woman comics in the last 15 years that she's a descendant of the splinter group of the Amazons who left all those years ago. In a nutshell, she tells her men that they're looking for a terrorist cell that has been operating off a hard-to-find Island somewhere in the Atlantic. With what Steve (and we) know, it doesn't take long to figure out she's trying to find the Amazons' island.

Fed up with Steve's failed efforts to charm Artemis, Diana breaks into her office and looks for evidence. She gets more than she bargained for when a "Gorgon" attacks her. She fights off the Gorgon in another spectacular battle, but ends up trashing the place. At the same time, Artemis thugs to "persuade" Steve to tell the truth about Diana and reveal what really happened on his mission. His cover story of how he managed to avoid going down with his ship isn't holding water.
Steve fights off these thugs, but an interesting thing happens when he returns to his apartment. Diana has been crashing at his place and while she fills him in about her recent fight, more of Artemis' men break in. One of them draws a gun and when Diana doesn't freeze, he fires. Steve leaps on the man, in the process putting himself in the path of the next shot. He reacts so instinctively, he doesn't see Diana deflect the bullet with her bracelet. Fortunately, it's just a flesh wound, but Diana is impressed that Steve would have risked his life for her.

They try to interrogate the assailant, but he bursts into flames the instant the lasso is put on him. Somehow, Diana knows this means Ares is involved. She and Steve have a bonding moment, and by now it's clear that Man's World has softened Diana a bit... but that's still no set-up for what happens next.

Diana and Steve have sex.

That sound you just heard was about a hundred message boards opening up into rants about Wonder Woman and virginity. There is probably not a single DC Comics bulletin board where this subject doesn't come up regularly, and it always gets ugly and ends badly. It usually comes down to a fight between posters who will argue that only certain characters are worthy of sleeping with Diana, or that with her history she should remain eternally celibate. On the other side of the issue are posters who find the very suggestion of Wonder Woman's celibacy offensive and argue that it's a sexist, repressive attitude that runs counter to the powerful feminist message that Wonder Woman offers.

(It is funny how in comics, every other female character can date, and few readers will read into it and try to make some sort of sexual political issue out of it. But the instant Diana even flirts with a guy, the message boards explode! Not sure why that is. To be fair, somewhere along the way there seems to have been a story where it was implied that if Diana ever slept with a man, it would cost her her powers.)

In short, any writer who tiptoes near Wonder Woman's sex life is playing with fire. You think people had a problem with Superman having a kid out of wedlock? Just wait until this hits theatres. Jon Peters' giant spider has nothing on this plot twist.

Anyway, I get what they're trying to do with this -bring Diana full circle from hating men to embracing intimacy with them. If it wasn't so ham-fisted (and better developed along the way) it might have worked. Chalk it up to first draft-itis.

The next day, Steve and Diana report for work with plans to go over Artemis' head. Before they know what's going on, Artemis has them arrested. Steve inadvertently seals their fate when he urges Diana to cooperate and not reveal herself - and then she's promptly handcuffed over her bracelets. That's enough to sap her of her strength and her will to resist. Though Steve endures interrogation without giving up the island, Diana tells Artemis what she wants to know, much to her own horror and Steve's.

I'm not wild about the bondage stuff being put back in, but at least it's being used for something.

With Steve and Diana prisoner, Artemis launches an attack on the island. She reveals to her captives that - as I said before - she's a descendant of Diana's aunt... and a consort of Ares. Ares had been biding his time for centuries, trying to get revenge on the Amazons for humbling Hercules and his men. When Artemis joined the military, he became aware of her and revealed himself to her. In the process, he showed her the truth about her own past and now the two have teamed up to wipe out the Amazons and steal whatever power the gods left them to possess.

Meanwhile, Ares pulls off a coup on Mount Olympus. With the world on the brink of war due to some of Ares's other efforts, he's got more power than they do. All of the Amazons patron gods are incapacitated, making it clear that the Amazon warriors are on their own.

There's an awesome invasion scene as the military attacks the Amazons island. It's probably going to look like Saving Private Ryan meets Braveheart. (Though I wouldn't be shocked to find this was inspired by Avatar.) The Amazons weapons are a mix of ancient ones and techno-magic. This could be really cool on-screen. Apparently they can't bomb the island from above because of the magics that protect it, but they can do damage with ground forces.

Meanwhile, Steve breaks out from his cell, incapacitates a guard and gets to Diana's cell. She's described as being "zoned out" just sitting in the middle of the room staring at a wall. Steve gets her cuffs undone, just in time for some guards to arrive. You can guess where this goes - without so much as a warning, they fire and Diana - now back to herself - deflects the bullets with her bracelets. She moves in a blur as at least four guards open fire. Impressively, she deflects every single bullet... except one. Steve gets hit in the gut and dies in Diana's arms.

Cue kickass Wonder Woman action scene. It's awesome, she flies to the island and adds her own might to the Amazonian forces. It's like watching Optimus Prime kick all that Decepticon ass at the start of Transformers: The Movie. All that's missing is Stan Bush on the soundtrack.

Even more impressive, she does it without killing any of the invading American soldiers. She recognizes that they are all under the influence - magical and otherwise - of Ares - and decrees to her sisters that these men are pawns. I don't know if I buy that the Amazons managed to get this deep into the battle and NOT kill any of the men, but I'll go with it.

Having turned the tide for the Amazons, Diana uses a portal on the island to access Mount Olympus. She faces off against Ares, eventually doing him in with the Golden Lasso. This breaks his hold over the other gods long enough for them to vanquish him. Finally, Diana removes Artemis from command and brings about an end to the fighting.

As the story ends, Hippolyta considers opening up relations with the outside world, appointing Diana to be their permanent ambassador. Hera appears to Diana and tells her that she was touched by Steve's selfless sacrifice for her and all the Amazons, and thus, he shall be revived. (If any Amazons were killed in the fighting, their fates go unaddressed and there's no mention of any of the other pawns being resurrected.) Steve and Diana are reunited, happily.

As the film ends, Diana is told to find Artemis and see if there are any other descendants of Hipployta's sister's tribe still out there. It's also made clear that Ares power is far from crippled, as political tensions rising all over the world bring the threat of war, and thus empower him. Diana's mission is one of preaching peace and to prevent the outbreak of war at any cost.

So it's clear that Warners is trying to set up more than just one film here. I like the "bigger picture" sense offered by the ending. Still, while everything wraps up well, I've got a lot of major issues with how it gets there. The broad strokes of this thing work, but Warners would be smart to dump the sex scene, let the rape backstory be subtext rather than explicity, and totally change Diana's characterization in the first half. I get that the "wide-eyed innocent" approach to her character might have been seen as a cliche, but over-correcting to the other extreme really doesn't work if we're going to fall in love with this character.

Having said that, the action scenes seem like they could be cool and Steve Trevor is completely awesome. Warners, I implore you, fix what doesn't work in this draft but don't through the baby out with the bathwater.

[ ] worse than Wolverine
[ ] Did Jon Peters have a hand in this?
[*] Like a Bryan Singer superhero film, this could go either way.
[ ] On a par with Spider-Man 2
[ ] Better than The Dark Knight, Superman the Movie and Iron Man put together